Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Abby Sunderland Versus Mob Hysteria.

Jessica Watson: Broken mast after a collision with a tanker on a trial run.

Abby Sunderland: Broken mast in the Southern Indian Ocean

"Excellence can be obtained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible." - Unknown.

Bravo have more guts and savvy in your little finger than your detractors have in a lifetime. They will never raise extraordinary children who do extraordinary things.. You are blessed to have great water skills and you will complete your journey some day
Posted by: Christine Craft | June 12, 2010 at 06:52 PM (Los Angeles Times)

What was my reaction when I saw the news flashed across every major online Australian newspaper, “Abby lost at sea”? To be honest it was one of shock. My next feeling was that this could just as easily have been “Jessica lost at sea”. Later though, the sight of “Wild Eyes” lying dismasted in the Southern Indian Ocean, literally in the middle of nowhere and as far away as you can get from the mainlands only made me feel more respect and admiration for this intrepid young sailor (my apologies to those who think I’m among the ignorant and waffling sentimental adulators, but so be it. I like to look on the bright side, that’s all, really).

As one blogger phrased it:

Over the last few days, the world was captivated with the fate of Abby Sunderland, the sixteen-year-old girl missing at sea. I actually feel a certain kinship with Abby, because we both (not together!) set out on a small boat from Marina del Ray in California. At that point, the similarity ends: Me (age 25): I got as far as just outside the marina, whereupon the high waves of the Pacific caused my little motorboat to toss around a little, whereupon, suffering from mild hydrophobia, I began to totally freak out and headed back to shore as quickly as possible, whereupon I lay down on the ground…..Abby (age 16): Set out solo to circumnavigate the entire world non-stop, complete with six months' worth of dehydrated food and her eleventh-grade schoolwork. She managed four months and thousands of miles before her boat was damaged and she had to be rescued.

Source:Abby Sunderland: The Torah Perspective

When Abby’s dream of becoming the youngest solo and non-assisted circumnavigator came to an end with autopilot problems, having to pull into Capetown for repairs, her blog almost fell silent. I too wondered how she would recover from this enormous setback. Not long after this Jessica Watson sailed triumphantly into Sydney Harbour to cheering thousands, and millions more watching live, to take the unofficial title of youngest solo, non-stop and unassisted circumnavigator. Male or female, that is. When Abby again set sail from Capetown to continue her quest at a different level (to become the youngest assisted circumnavigator), it seems only her die-hard followers took much interest. That is, until the morning of June 10 when she encountered heavy seas and suffered multiple knockdowns in the southern Indian Ocean, and lost contact with her parents and then manually activated two of her emergency beacons. I could hardly believe the headlines when I woke that morning, “Abby lost at sea”. I initially thought it may have been a joke. I could also imagine in my mind the voices of the critics, “we told you so”. For a chilling twenty-fours or more, no-one, not even her parents, knew her fate. Her father Laurence speculated that the boat was probably upside down and keel-less, and she may have been in an “air bubble”, but even worse was imaginable – was she ripped from the boat and in the freezing ocean, in which case she might not have lasted very long? Laurence also speculated that “it’s going to take something special” to get her out of this one, maybe even a “miracle”.

The next morning the “miracle news” was provided by a Qantas A330, chartered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Australian Search and Rescue), which took off from Perth just before 8am with eleven trained observers on board, following the trail of the emergency beacons. Once arriving at the location it didn’t take long (ten minutes say reports) for the searchers to spot Abby and hear the words from two-way contact, “this is Abby”, and report back that the boat was upright, though dismasted and un-sailable, but she was “alive and well”. Abby’s first blog post after the incident, A Note From Abby , subsequently drew an incredible 12,000-plus comments; 2,000-plus of which have been posted to date. I don’t know if this itself is some kind of record for a personal blog post, but it must surely be. And this in response to a 272 word post by a 16 year old girl. What does that tell you? It tells me that behind all the criticism and incessant whinging of the nay-sayers, there was enormous world-wide interest and concern. The paradox is that that had Abby sailed to victory in her down-scaled quest, her arrival back at Marina de Ray would have gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the world. People like drama and suspense, and Abby provided it in truckloads, unwittingly of course, and the irony is that she is now more well-known than her successful brother/circumnavigator Zac Sunderland

All that aside, what was most revealing to me, and maybe lessons we can learn, is not that 16 year old girls shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing, but much of the negative, hysterical and distorted critical responses. That’s not to say that some criticisms were not valid, especially what she was doing in the southern Indian Ocean at its most perilous season. But I guess that's what “adventurers” do. Had she successfully negotiated it, it would have been a feat to talk about and added a lot more wind to her sails, if you’ll pardon the pun, but it would still never match the real-life drama that ensued and brought her to world attention. Whether we admit it or not, events like this add much flavour and interest to our lives, even when the “play” ends in tragedy. The difference between us "ordinary people" and adventurers like Abby is that we prefer “safe interests”, and the closest many of us come to real-life danger may only be Internet generated, which reminds me that even that has its perils: Dangers of Internet Addiction . So where do we go to escape danger in our lives? No where, really. Absolutely no where, and the degrees of danger are often exaggerated by ignorance.

It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy of life lies in having no goal to reach.

- Benjamin E. Mays

One of the more hysterical responses, and from not a few in the US, is that Abby’s parents should be “locked up” for “child abuse”. Maybe someone should have locked up Steve Irwin before he was mauled to death by a stingray. Known for handling and planting loving kisses on some of the world’s most deadly snakes, he was surely out of his mind, right? And then there was the incident when he held his one-month-old son, Bob, in his arm while hand-feeding a chicken carcass to Murray, a 3.8-metre (12 ft 6 in) saltwater crocodile. Child welfare and animal rights groups likened it to “child abuse”, and Irwin later apologised (probably more out of a duty to political correctness). Irwin was thrilled with danger and challenges and lived dangerously. He paid the ultimate price, but that is what “adventurers” do, and they do it fully realising that in the process they could die. The reader may recall my former post about The Moral Panic Generation, and it seems like officially appointed do-gooders want to control every aspect of our lives, “for our own good”. The safety nannies and neighbourhood macos (nosy person, busy-body and gossip-monger in Trinidad-speak ) have their life-path cut out to a tee – to moralise to and police the rest of us. We have become so curtailed, rule-driven, lectured to, pampered, cocooned, protected and set upon by modern day Pharisees that the 1950s once again seems very appealing. You know, those days when we could sleep at night with the front door unlocked and there were no dog-poo laws. We need laws and rules and regulations because that is how every society co-exists and survives (I’m pointing this out for those a few chips short of a Happy Meal), but the way we are going is more like King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella refusing sponsorship of the seafaring dreamer Christopher Columbus because sailing off the edge of the world was just too frightening a thought to condone (for those who like adventure, I highly recommend reading about the voyages of Columbus). And I seriously don’t know where the mollycoddling ends.

In closing, I’d like to address sundry criticisms of Abby Sunderland and her family, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

1. She’s too young to be sailing solo around the world.

She’s also too young to be pregnant, on drugs, or smashed on alcohol, which a significant number of young people are, which they call “adventure”. Expenditure on drug law enforcement in Australia: $1.3 - $2 billion annually.

2. Her parents are irresponsible and should be locked up for child abuse.

Do you know where your 16 year old son or daughter is on a Friday or Saturday night? “At a friend’s place”? Does he/she keep in constant contact with you so that you know her every movement, exactly where she is, and what her ETA (estimated time of arrival) is? Be my guest to one example:Two teens killed in horror smash And also: Worldwide road fatalities 1998: 1,170,694 See also Youth Suicide and Self-Injury Australia.

3. The Sunderlands did this for money and fame.

After pulling into Capetown, Abby’s dream was all but over. She was unlikely to get rich, and the popularity of her blog was failing rapidly. So this was her plan: Saw off her mast in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and deliberately cut communication to create some drama. Exaggerate the height of the waves and the terror, and last but not least – leave her treasured “Wild Eyes” to the elements. The money should really start rolling in. And isn't money what it's all about? Your kid becomes a surgeon or a dentist or a doctor only for money, and no interest whatsoever in the profession? Got it.

4. Reality TV rewards motivated the Sunderlands.

No doubt they were motivated by Big Brother , and anxiously awaiting something like the $450,000 prize for sleazing around a house and acting like yobbos and bozzos, and attracting millions of viewers. Actually, the very same people who take more interest in criticising “too young” solo circumnavigators. Some media and blog commentators have called Abby’s solo sail “boring”, and not worth the attention it has been given. Maybe a show that rates 2.1 million viewers, about young people swearing and fornicating, must be some kind of indication of the mettle of people who criticise a 16 year old girl who wants to commit the grave sin of sailing solo around the world. I hope not, but I do fear this is the direction we are headed.

5. Australian taxpayers should not have to pay for risk takers like Abby Sunderland.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, however, recognise something that many don’t: That here’s a young girl, like Jessica Watson, who dares to stand out from the crowd, and do something to inspire and motivate others to accomplish the “impossible”. The funny thing is that we all end up paying for “risk-takers and adventurers”, of the “other kind” that so many of our adults and youth are. Be my guest and go through these links in detail:Illicit Drugs in Australia: Use, Harm and Policy Responses

You see, when Australian authorities are prepared to spend a mere $200,000, or $300,000 on the rescue of a solo girl-sailor, and do so without reservation, and employ the most skilled crafts-people to save her, who all willingly volunteered to help, and even the Defence Force willingly offered its services if needed, to drop food supplies for Abby, we are seeing people who duly recognise honour and courage, which is becoming rarer, and rarer. I am totally ashamed of those Australians, especially the media, who criticise this expenditure, but I realise that we are dealing with a different generation; a generation prepared to sit back, and from the champagne-comforts of hotels, homes and nightclubs willy-nilly criticise those who dare to dream, and who dare to revive the spirit in which the following was written (even though apocryphally attributed to Ernest Shackleton):

WANTED: Volunteers for a hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.


"Pour me another vodka and orange, mate, while I contemplate and criticise these deluded adventurers." - The Mob.

"Dreams don't come true every night; it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance, but with that it can happen." - Abby Sunderland.


Reporter who sailed with Abby Sunderland shares perspective

1 comment:

  1. Let’s be clear about something. No matter how evil, stupid or ill conceived your actions may be there will always be a small minority of fools that will blindly support your actions. Its’ the equivalent of calling the fallen Angels supporters of Lucifer which in fact they were and we know what happened to them. They too thought Lucifer was a pretty cool dude.
    It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Abby nor her parents will not take ownership of the insanity behind this voyage gone bad. After all nobody wants to be known as a stupid person. That would take way too much humility for the prideful family.
    Unfortunately they have already blown the opportunity to redeem themselves and will now forever be known as a very stupid family and Laurence as the king of fools.
    Even worse than the denial and false pride is the boastful claim to be followers of THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Just as the Lord calmed the sea to show his awesome power he seems to have raised the oceans against Abby to show his discontent towards this self serving act of defiance. Satan himself has blinded this family to heed his message and has hardened their hearts with false pride and arrogance.
    For sure if they defy the Lords mercy again they will mock God and perhaps pay a price much greater than a ruined reputation.
    Laurence the so-called father boastfully stood up and claimed only those who don’t sail or understand the ways of the sea are criticizing the decision to set Abby adrift.

    Wrong again Laurence! Lifelong professional sailors around the world have condemned you as a sailor and as a parent for signing off on this incredibly stupid and risky move.

    One stating and I quote” I don’t care of Abbey sailed right out of her mother’s womb this was the most foolhardy decision I have ever been privy to in my 50 years of sailing”

    So you go right ahead and so what feels good. You go girl.